The United States criminal justice system is inequitable and ineffective. In light of the racial and economic discrimination perpetuated by U.S. justice institutions, we believe that past involvement with the justice system should not be used to evaluate personal character or academic potential. We call upon Princeton University to remove the question about past involvement with the justice system from applications for undergraduate admission.

Sign the petition here!

There are so many reasons we feel passionately about the need to change Princeton's admissions policies.  Below are just a few reasons you might have for choosing to support the Admissions Opportunity Campaign.


  • The United States justice system is racially and economically discriminatory. Targeted policing strategies result in disproportionate arrests and convictions of residents of predominantly inner-city, impoverished areas, largely for drug crimes. According to the National Institute of Health, white youth use drugs more frequently than black and Hispanic youth.[1] Still, incarceration rates are much higher for the latter groups. Moreover, economically privileged youth have greater access to superior legal counsel and thus a higher chance of having their record expunged.

  • Students on our campus differ from those we are discriminating against in circumstance, not in character. Many Princeton University students commit offenses for which the Common Application question screens, but are not apprehended due to luck or privilege. Given that nearly everyone has violated the law in some way, involvement with the justice system largely reflects external factors and not aberrant behavior.

  • Education provides opportunities for success and creates a more equitable society. While the national recidivism rate is greater than 43%, a study that looked at the effect of education on recidivism found that with a bachelor’s degree recidivism rates drop to 5.6%, and with a master’s degree to less than 1%.[2]

  • Previous involvement with the justice system is not an accurate prediction of a student’s on-campus behavior. There is no empirical evidence to indicate that criminal history screening increases safety on campus.[3] Furthermore, a 2013 study found that nearly 97% of students who engaged in misconduct as undergraduates did not report criminal records on their admissions application.[4]

  • Individuals with past involvement with the justice system would bring distinct perspectives to Princeton. Approximately one-quarter of U.S. adults have a criminal record.[5] A lack of interaction with this stigmatized population fosters deep misunderstandings about the nature of the criminal justice system and those affected by it. We believe that by eliminating questions related to past involvement with the justice system, Princeton can open the door to increased diversity of experience and perspective among the student body without compromising its academic quality or moral character.

  • The Box not only facilitates discrimination against the formerly incarcerated, it actively discourages people from completing the application. A report done on the State University of New York (SUNY) system, whose application asks about history with the penal system, demonstrated the effects of the box on application attrition rates. The report found that for every one applicant denied admission after checking "yes" when asked about past convictions, 15 other applicants who checked "yes" failed to complete the application form. Moreover, the median attrition rate for those with felony convictions was found to be three times higher than the median attrition rate for the general applicant pool. [6]


Sign the petition here!


{1] “Race/Ethnicity and Gender Difference in Drug Abuse Among College Students,” McCabe et al., May 2008, Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, <>.

[2] “State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons,” Pew Center on the States, 2011, <>, p. 2, and “Review of various outcome studies relating prison education to reduced  recidivism,” C. Tracy and C. Johnson, Windham School System: Huntsville, TX. pp. 6-7.

[3] “The Use of Criminal History Records in College Applications: Reconsidered,” The Center for Community Alternatives, Nov. 2010, <>.

[4] “Can student-perpetrated college crime be predicted based on precollege misconduct,” Runyan et al., Feb 2013. Injury Prevention, <>.

[5] “65 Million ‘Need Not Apply’: The Case for Reforming Criminal Background Checks for Employment,” Michelle Natividad Rodriguez and Maurice Emsellem, National Employment Law Project, March 2001, <>, p. 3.

[6] "Boxed Out: Criminal History Screening and College Application Attrition," The Center for Community Alternatives, March 2015. <>